Last week, the Commission published the AI Innovation Package to support Artificial Intelligence startups and SMEs. The measures listed in the package include facilitating access to AI-focused supercomputers, which is expected to help expand the use of AI to a wide range of users, including European start-ups and SMEs. An article in Science|Business rightly pointed out that the plan outlined by the Commission suggests that it is pinning its hopes on private companies to keep the EU competitive in AI.
Putting faith in private actors is not sufficient. The way to address the imbalance of power and market concentration must also include investing in the development of systems that serve society and have the best interests of people and the planet at their core. At the moment, it doesn’t seem that this approach will be implemented in the field of AI. Whether we can expect any efforts to create a public option for AI in Europe remains to be seen. Some public interests, such as ensuring diversity and transparency in the datasets that train AI models, are simply not always aligned with the interests of corporations who might favor the fastest and cheapest solutions. This is where public authorities, civil society and the large communities of scientists and practitioners working on AI in Europe have a role to play.
Science | Business reported that German Research Minister Bettina Stark-Watzinger believes that “no state or association of states can match the investments made by large corporations like Microsoft or Google with public investments.”
This suggests that the German government throws in the towel and assumes that private actors are equipped and have the intention to develop digital services that serve the public interest and allow people to enjoy their fundamental rights.This approach is somewhat disappointing, and given the example of private social media platforms that fail to fulfill the role of digital public spaces,, it does not appear to be appropriate. To put it simply, without public funding, European society won’t get AI that serves the public.